The Willpower Challenge2 min read

Your willpower is like a muscle, which means that you can train it. To build a muscle, you must apply resistance, embrace the pain, and push through. Likewise, with willpower and self-discipline—they grow through friction. Embrace that pain, and don’t shy away!

Exercising willpower to achieve your goals increases your inner fire because friction creates heat. In the spiritual traditions of India, this psychological heat is called tapas (not to be confused with Spanish snacks), and it is considered central to self-transformation. Unimaginable things are possible through willpower and tapas

A piece of solid iron can be molded—if it’s hot enough. Exercising your willpower daily generates the inner heat that allows you to mold your life—and yourself—to your design. This is the key to self-transformation.

Therefore, exercise your willpower every day. Invite this inner heat. Rejoice in it. 

Developing self-discipline to achieve your goals and aspirations is a natural way of exercising your willpower. This is what Mindful Self-Discipline is all about.

A simpler willpower exercise is to choose to do something difficult, however small, every day. If it generates psychological heat, if it stretches you, it is a form of tapas. I call this willpower challenge

Choose a small commitment every morning—something meaningful and challenging—and keep it throughout your day, no matter what. Here are some examples:

Today I willToday I will not
Take a short, cold showerComplain
Practice intermittent fasting Swear
Feel grateful whenever I say “thank you”Slouch
Cultivate optimismDrink coffee
Speak when I see injusticeEat sugar
Breathe deeply before unlocking my phoneArgue meaninglessly
Be in bed by 10pm Use social media
Have one difficult conversationInterrupt others
Do something I’ve been postponingWatch TV or play games
Exercise 30 extra minutesSnooze my alarm
Hold eye contact with peopleEat junk food
Say “no” when I need to Bite my fingernails/lips/cheeks
Be friendly toward everyoneCheck work email outside working hours
Think before I talkGossip
Be on timeIndulge in negative feelings
Speak kindly and truthfully Say harsh words

Focus on a different challenge from the list (or make one up) every day, for 21 days. This simple practice exercises not only your willpower, but also your self-awareness skills.

During the exercise, don’t avoid the challenge or run away from the temptation, as that defeats the purpose. Live life as normal, and meet the challenges that come. If you feel ambitious, turn the heat up by exposing yourself to more temptation. 

After 21 days of this practice, your willpower will be stronger. You can then use it to change a particular behavior, and focus on that intention for 21 days in a row. Or you can go for another round, with a different challenge every day. Be creative about it! 

If these challenges feel unachievable, don’t worry about being perfect at them. The point is to just continuously exercise your willpower muscle, and stretch your limits. The stronger your willpower becomes, the more you are able to be the person you want to be, and live the life you want to live.

(For a printable version of the Willpower Challenges, download our free workbook.)

This article is a summary of key ideas taken from Chapter 6 of Mindful Self-Discipline. To dive deeper, get the book or audiobook.


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